Feast Q&A: Little touches lead to big win for winery

Courtesy of Wise Villa Winery

The winner of the 2015 California State Fair’s Winery of the Year award isn’t from Napa or Sonoma. Wise Villa Winery is in Lincoln, and it earned the honor by having the most high-scoring wines in the competition: four Best of Class of region, five golds, seven silvers and five bronzes.

Wise Villa winemaker Kevin Luther says that he and pharmacist and longtime winemaker Grover Lee work to develop innovative techniques that the industry’s traditionalists usually don’t consider. Wise Villa’s grapes, grown on-site, are hand-selected for optimal ripeness and sorted three times for purity.

The berries are fermented whole, rather than crushed, to break down their juices slowly. And the winery’s red wines are fermented at the same temperature as the white wines, to allow the wine to retain stronger fruit flavors.

Its selection includes pinot noirs, cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels and a “fan-favorite” mix of chardonnay and muscat.

Luther, a Sacramento native who has worked in wineries around the world, spoke with The Bee about his wine-making philosophy, winning the award and helping to put more Placer County wines on the map.

Q: Placer County isn’t as well known as other wine regions. Why start a winery there?

A: Placer County has a very unique climate and soil that is perfect for wine grapes. (The temperature) drops about 40 or 50 degrees from day to night. The cooling allows grapes to ripen effectively. If you don’t let them cool down at night, you lose a lot of your aroma. Another element is that we have decomposed granite soil. Mineral- and rock-based soil results in low crop levels. Grapes really, really thrive on terrible soil, gravel soils. We have soil that makes vines struggle and we crop at a low level (which produces fewer grapes); you concentrate the flavor of the grapes, resulting in an intense flavor in the wine.

Q: Wise Villa pays great attention to grape selection. What else sets you apart?

A: Craftsmanship and dedication to doing the right thing at every stage. The craftsmanship of winemaking is the art of a thousand small arts. Each little thing you do influences what direction you want to take. As a winemaker, you need to have an artistic focus, a vision of what you want to create. That way you taste wines that taste distinct and balanced and delicious. You’re really building intensity and continually enhancing the unique potential of that grape. The artistic element is that you have to look at that grape, and really envision what it could be. It’s like you’re raising a child.

Q: How did you react to winning the award?

A: It was really exciting. I am really young for this industry. It’s not like I’m totally new, but you expect that thing maybe 20, 30 years into your career. As a winery, we’re not even 5 years old; we’re still very young in development. I am still floating on clouds right now.

Q: What does this mean for your business?

A: It’s brought a lot of attention, not just to us but to the whole county. There’s 21 wineries in Placer County and a lot of people don’t even realize we’re there. Our local community, and the Sacramento community that’s only 20 to 30 minutes away, are starting to realize we exist and realize our wine quality.

Jeanne Kuang: 916-321-1188, @jeannekuang

Kevin Luther

Winemaker at Wise Villa Winery in Lincoln

Wise Villa recently won the 2015 California State Fair’s Winery of the Year award. Its wines can be purchased online at or at the winery (4200 Wise Road, Lincoln). They are also sold locally at Whole Foods Market, Total Wine and Costco.